Friday, December 4, 2009



I am a You Tube addict. I started using it way back in 2005. In those days, I felt special because I knew about this really cool secret site that let you watch videos that you hadn't seen in years FOR FREE. Not many people knew about it back then. It was like the early internet and Napster: It was uncensored, uncut, highly individualistic and--best of all--free. You could watch whatever you wanted when you wanted. It was simple and fun.

But you know how this story ends. Now everyone knows about You Tube. People even launch careers posting on it. And once big corporations realized how many people they could reach by tapping into You Tube, the Wild West atmosphere quickly eroded. Although I can't say exactly when it happened, big media companies bought up You Tube. They started tattooing advertising filth all over the screen, along with copyright notices and other hogwash. They even started sucking the fun out of You Tube by disabling audio tracks on videos that "did not obtain permission" from certain license holders. Finally--and most vexingly--they identified "popular" videos and forced viewers to sit through a full-blown ad (maybe for cologne, erectile dysfunction pills or a car or something) for 40 seconds before loading the video.

Now I can't just sit and browse videos at will. Now I have to sit through another fucking GEICO commercial before seeing James Brown perform.

All this regulation pissed me off. I like unbridled expressive forums. I don't like it when they devolve into just another cash-and-carry venture for greedy corporations. Yet that's generally what happens in America. I actually invented a rule to describe this process: "When a dollar can be made, it will be made, all other considerations be damned." Thus, when a medium appears to grab everyone's attention for a sufficiently long time, you know some corporate asshole will want to cash in on it. What starts as a fun phenomenon degenerates into just another profit opportunity. And when money's at stake, no one has fun anymore, let alone free rein to say what they want.

In a word, You Tube sold out. I suppose I can't blame the guys who originated the medium for handing everything over to the media giants. Hey, I'd like to be set for life, too. It's just sad to lose expressive free-for-alls like the old You Tube. Free-for-alls in any human endeavor are becoming increasingly rare these days. You always wind up contending with some stodgy corporate rulemaker who drains fun in order to guarantee a profit for the company. And as much as I care about artists who want to protect their works, I just don't see how it damages an artist's fortunes when some teenager posts a video on You Tube just for fun. In other words, P. Diddy won't go broke if someone replays an "All About the Benjamins" video from 1997.

Despite all the drawbacks, You Tube still serves an extremely valuable function. There are more videos on it now than ever before. You can still peruse as many videos as you want for free. You just need the patience to endure compulsory commercial excrement for several minutes per session. And sometimes you might discover that one of your favorite videos has been "removed for copyright issues."

I suppose there is one saving grace in this commercial sewer: Sometimes daring individuals rename videos that have been removed and post them again. This defies the regulators.

I like that. It shows that you can't completely suppress expression, no matter who holds what property rights. That's the internet spirit, too: There's still some Wild left in the West. You just need to look a little harder to find it.

No comments: